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Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival In a Saudi Prison Hardcover – Oct 12 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart; Canadian First edition (Nov. 1 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0771079036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771079030
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 3.3 x 15.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 748 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #686,457 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

William Sampson’s Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison is a harrowing, deeply moving testimony to human endurance, and a valuable addition to the other accounts our times have provided about the effects of torture on the body and soul. “Confessions” in the title refers both to the fabrications Sampson was forced by torture to utter, write and sign, and to the account he gave freely after his release, which is devoted to telling the truth about his incarceration and torture.
The use of torture is ancient, the methods documented, named, and universal. Elaine Scarry, in her book The Body in Pain, says, “Torture consists of a primary physical act, the infliction of pain and a primary verbal act, the interrogation.” She adds, “Intense pain is world-destroying.” Sampson’s book is about the attempted destruction of his world through torture and about his endeavour to maintain or reconstruct vestiges of his world to ensure that he was not demolished beyond the obliterating effects of the torture room.
In between periods of torture, he suffered the psychological anguish of anticipating and dreading the next session, and the torment of being shackled under constant artificial light in an upright position that made sleep impossible. Prolonged sleep deprivation induces terrifying hallucinations. The body after torture is still in pain. Simply to exist becomes painful and the prospect of death seems like a welcome release.
Since the person being tortured knows that if the pain goes on, he will break because there are limits to his endurance, why, we wonder, doesn’t he “confess” at once? Hallucinating from lack of sleep, in agony from being beaten, Sampson says to himself, “Hold on.” “I knew,” he writes, “that I would break soon enough, but each hour I resisted was an hour that I was not owned.” The struggle is about not being owned. The trick is to find miniscule hiding places of the soul or psyche while the body undergoes the massive trespass of physical torture, which is also an attempt to eradicate the soul. Sampson devised a system of counting days by secreting grains of rice in a hole in his mattress, and marking each grain-a plain grain for a day, a crossed grain for a night without sleep, a soiled grain for a session of torture. He also secreted in his mouth small wads of paper, and wound bits of string surreptitiously around his fingers. Their value to him was in remaining undetected. As he says, “Small and insignificant as these activities of mine might seem, they had a purpose: to help me to endure, to give me some minor sense of control, to create a small area of privacy in the physical world.” He also did what the powerless have always done: he undermined the terrifying power of his torturers by giving them private names that mocked their authority.
The improvised and fragile systems for keeping track of passing days helped maintain a link to the world in which time unfolds in a orderly way, with hours counted, with light and dark. The irony in his narrative of torment is that it is the calls to prayer in the Muslim day that punctuate time and provide a respite from his torment. Over the hell of the torture chambers soared the enjoinder to pray. It is no wonder that he began to curse the supposed deity and prophet who, it seemed to him, presided over this monstrous farce.
At a low point in his ordeal, when rape had been added to his torture, and he fell into several hours of “total nothingness”, he remembered lines from a poem by Richard Lovelace: “Stone walls do not a prison make, / Nor iron bars a cage / Hearts innocent and quiet take / this for an hermitage. / If I have freedom in my love / and in my soul am free / Angels alone, that soar above, / Enjoy such liberty.” These words were for him an intellectual and emotional epiphany, and he recited them over and over. “It was as if,” he writes, “as my own mind was losing its ability to protect itself against the onslaught, it reached out from within the stone walls and iron bars in which I was confined to the ideas and feelings of others, drawing from them the necessary strength with which to keep me alive . . . ” His captors owned his body but the words of long dead poets could unlock the door to freedom in his mind.
Later in his imprisonment, after he had suffered a heart attack as a result of the injuries inflicted on him and was no longer tortured with such severity for fear he might die in custody, he devised retaliations, which were in part revenge on his torturers, in part another attempt to strengthen and insulate his own self. He describes the logic underlying these various strategies: “If I do it to myself first, demonstrate that I can endure it, then when you do it to me I will not be harmed by you, having become inured.” Thus he willed himself not to read, not to eat, and not to wash, to show his tormentors that if he were deprived of books, food, and water, he would be able to endure. Aggressive retaliation took various forms: smashing up whatever was provided, blaspheming against and degrading the Koran, shredding the culturally approved garment, using what his body produced-urine, feces- to extend himself into and take control of his space, by making it repellent to his tormentors. Since he had been reduced to his body, his body was all he had, and he used it to attack and defend.
Sampson’s account raises the question of negligence on the part of the Canadian government in handling his case. All his meetings with representatives of the Canadian government were conducted in the presence of his torturers, which violated recognised diplomatic norms. Why did Canadian consular officials not demand a private interview? Sampson says that Canadian officials had been told that since the Koran forbids torture, he could not have been tortured. Yet it was obvious to anyone who saw Sampson in the video of his ‘confession’, released by the Saudi Arabian government early in 2001, that something terrible had been done to this man. How could this not have been obvious to Canadian officials? Since his captors had threatened to harm his father, Sampson made it clear that he did not want his father to enter Saudi Arabia. Despite his wishes, Canadian officials insisted on the meetings. Because these visits took place in the presence of his torturers, it was impossible for Sampson to tell the truth, so Sampson attempted to communicate with his father by uttering one word as his father left: “If”, the title of a poem by Rudyard Kipling about the virtue of human endurance, spoken to let his father know that he was suffering the worst and managing to stand up to it.
The attempts of the Canadian embassy to intervene became a circus of misunderstandings. Sampson remains convinced that the Canadian government “had adopted an official stance that accepted my guilt without question.” He began to suspect, and believes this still, that Canadian embassy officials were more interested in accommodating his captors and avoiding a diplomatic incident than in assisting him or his family. Consequently, he began to refuse all embassy visits. He was outraged by what he perceived as a neglectful attitude towards him, and by the fact that his father’s life had been endangered. Upon his release, he refused to have anything to do with Canadian officials, dealing with the British instead, since he has dual citizenship. The representatives of the Canadian government in Saudi Arabia failed Sampson in three fundamental ways: in not acquiring the necessary information about the regime that held him captive, in not demanding his diplomatic rights, and in failing to imagine-to picture from their comfortable vantage point-the barbaric conditions in which Sampson was held prisoner.
Solitary confinement, torture, and sodomy are painful and terribly degrading. Being forced to incriminate one’s innocent friends, to fabricate lies about one’s past, is soul-destroying. Sampson was determined to retain, if he could, a core of physical and emotional integrity and to survive somehow whole on the inside. He emerged from his ordeal with a fragile but intact sense of self, with a touching appreciation for any gesture of human kindness, and with a profound need to be believed, to have his torture acknowledged.
He does not forgive, but he concedes that his torturers were instrumental in his discovery of his own humanity. A person who has been tortured remains for the rest of his or her life a survivor of torture. A country that institutionalises torture should be shunned by other nations. No country that sees itself as a member of an enlightened global society should allow itself to look the other way. A human being with William Sampson’s integrity is of inestimable value to any country. If one can find any solace in Sampson’s story, especially in view of how ineffectively Canada’s government had dealt with his imprisonment, it’s the fact that our nation has nurtured a man of this quality. If Sampson still consents to call himself Canadian, I am proud to call myself his fellow citizen.
A. J. Mallinson (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada

About the Author

William Sampson was working as a marketing consultant in Riyadh at the time of his arrest. He holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and an MBA from Edinburgh University. The British Court of Appeal recently awarded Sampson and his fellow detainees the landmark right to sue their torturers in Saudi Arabia.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By G. R. Lakes on Jan. 31 2008
Format: Paperback
Already, someone previous to my post here, has pretty much summed it up. But it never hurts to add a second opinion of which mine can only hope to inspire others to pick-up this incredible testimony.

There are times upon reading William's account where I shuddered; others I revelled in his skill at manipulating his captors; others I laughed out loud! despite the horrendous conditions he was held in.

One of the most compelling books I've read in recent memory. It has made me very aware if not, angry at some of the blatant discrepencies of our dealings with other nations, if foreign policy is our forte: not! In the case of Saudi Arabia, I can only now say I would prefer other southern climates for a vacation or overseas posting.

As a Canadian or British citizen, you'll be outraged by what you read. As a Canadian, my heart sank...and deeply it did for William. But I am very proud of him for having the balls to write his own personal account.

This book is a thriller that is NOT: fiction!

Friction? perhaps it may cause, but I hope it is within your conscience that you find this rugburn of thought.

6 stars, if this setting was permissable!! ****** (6)

A documentary is in the works, if not already released. The names: Khalid and Ibrahim, are etched firmly in my mind. Read William's account, you'll see why.

Glad to have you back William.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Irish Rose on July 24 2008
Format: Paperback
It's frightening how your life can be going along...and then your life changes in an instant. I don't know how he survived, but I do admire him for having the courage to tell the story.
One thing I learned-don't count on the Canadian government to help you out! You really are on your own!
Great book & very well written.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 11 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
An Extraordinary Account Feb. 3 2006
By Stacey Harlan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sampson has done a superb job of delineating the hideous nature of the Saudi Arabian pseudo-justice system. His account of the years of torture he endured after being falsly accused of murdering via bombs fellow ex-patriots is specific, detailed, and

unrelenting. And, the horror of Saudi wickedness (he is, for example, repeatedly raped by his captors, AND accused of the

capital offense of homosexuality!) is only exceeded by the bland complicity of both British and Canadian embassies.

This account is in some ways reminiscent of the Dali Lama's

book "My Land and My People" which recounts the torture-genocide of the Tibetan people at the hands of the Chinese. There is nothing more powerful then a first hand account by a credible witness of "the horror of the situation" in portraying the real nature of a political regime, and Sampsons record is just such a powerful and direct record. It is very well written, utterly fascinating, and has the feel of a nightmare that one has somehow woken up in only to find that one is, indeed, not dreaming at all but in the depths of a living hell. Well done, William Sampson, and may your record help to bring to the rulers of Saudi Arabia what they truly deserve.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
If you think torture is acceptable, read this book April 9 2006
By Rob - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Sampson provides a very detailed account, not only of what happened to him, but also his state of mind as it happened. He describes the hell that he went through, along with his attempts to resist, and his methods of trying to preserve his sanity. A scary look inside the corrupt Saudi justice system. Note: Some scenes are very graphic, and not suitable for children or the faint of heart. Personally, I found the book hard to put down.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Valuable Read on the Greatness of a Man Sept. 4 2006
By tehillimlady - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Like the book Night, by Elie Weisel, this book shows how even a man imprisoned can fight his captors with the strength of his mind (and body). Samson is challenged in ways many of us "soft" Americans cannot dream of; yet he rises to the challenges and finds ways to stay sane in an insane situation. He learns how he can live without even basic necessities (giving up books is harder than giving up food) so that his torturers cannot use these privileges against him. Samson shows us when he "fails" himself and when he triumphs.

To think that a citizen of a Western country can be abandoned by his country in order to keep good relations is an outrage that needs to be corrected. Samson shared with us his trial so that we might see the truth and perhaps others would be spared.

Thanks so much for this well written, eye-opening book. You are a true hero.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
harrowing and compelling April 10 2007
By smoothsoul - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book about one man's torture at the hands of Saudi Arabian officials is a must-read. To cover up internal problems, Saudis blamed bombings of Westerners on other Westerners. They then tortured the arrested into confessing. It's hard not to be irate reading this book. Sampson's survival is testament to the human spirit, and his horrific tale makes for gripping and worrying reading.

When I first wrote this review a number of years ago, I thought Saudi Arabia must be an evil country. But now I live and work here, I have to say the people I've met here are probably the nicest people I've met. That's not to say bad things can't happen here - as they obviously did to William Sampson. And I think his book still makes for a compelling read.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Saudi Allies? NOT! March 10 2006
By Nicky London - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Shocking story of Saudi brutality to innocent westerners. What's even worse than the torture is the spineless acquiescence of Canadian officials who turned a blind eye to the barbarism and allowed it to continue. If the Saudi's are U.S. allies, we don't need any enemies.


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